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Planning Spring 2009 trip to Israel

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Oldest daughter will be spending junior year at Hebrew Univ for Jan - June 2009. Would like to visit with youngest daughter (she will be 17 and HS senior)for 2 weeks in March or May. Just beginning research, have lots of questions. On very tight budget, want to spend least amount of money for maximum experience.

* Looking for cheap airfare from CMH - TLV or any Midwest airport (ORD, CLE, CVG) or EWR or JFK.
* Which timeframe is better price wise and weather wise? March or May. Would prefer not very hot (have been in July/August), but would like to be able to swim in ocean.
* Have tons of family in Israel, youngest daugther has never met (her 1st trip). Want to take 7 day organized land tour with hotels & meals, then spend 7 days visiting (and staying with) relatives throughout the country.
* Should we rent a car? Visiting Haifa, Netanya, Kineret, Rishon le Zion on our own.
* Will this trip disqualify youngest daughter's ability to take Israel Birthright trip?
* Any other considerations/big decisions we need to make now?

Thanks!

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    Congratulations on your daughter studying at Hebrew U. Do you know which campus she will be in? Jerusalem does get quite cold (and wet) in winter but quite hot in summer--make sure she gets appropriate clothing.

    Cheap flights--it's probably too early to get the airfare. If you don't mind flying budget, I believe Israir flies between NY and Tel Aviv. Or try to find a travel agent that specialise in Israel (often found on adverts on Jewish newspapers).

    I'm not aware of any gateway city in Midwest that has direct TLV flights. You can make 1 connection either in NY (CO, El Al, Delta) or in Toronto (Air Canada). Alternatively, you can fly into another gateway city in Europe (Amsterdam, Zurich, London, Vienna) but that means 2 stops for you, probably not practical. My folks in Pittsburgh usually connects via EWR on CO.

    Swim in the ocean--May is definitely good beach weather, could be hot in the middle of the day. March would be more pleasant, good for beach but maybe a tad cold to dip into Mediterrenean water. If you really want swimming beach weather, you might want to include Eilat.

    Car/tour--it really depends on how much getting around you're planning to do. There is also a (limited train) between Tel Aviv and some cities along the coast. The country is well covered by Egged bus network. I won't consider driving in Jerusalem. I personally think you don't need organised tour, esp if you're going to see relatives. If you have 2 weeks, you can spend 3-4 days up north (kinneret, galille, Herzelia), 3-4 days in Jerusalem, 2-3 days going south Masada/Dead Sea. (Personally, I'm not a big fan of Tel Aviv.) I love Binyamina/Zichron Yaakov area--excellent wineries.

    We also have tons of friends/relatives there, and the problem of Israeli holiday for me is it becomes more of a family obligation tour sometimes. Can you get all the relatives to meet you at a restaurant or someone's home? Rishon-le-Zion is quite close to the airport, so makes a perfect place to stay the day before. (Nothing particular about the city, though it's pleasant).

    Birthlight Israel--your daughter should be able to still qualify so long as she has done only family trips to Israel. My nephew has done it (under a similar circumstances, been a couple of times but only for family visits). But I would check with them beforehand.

    Other consideration--in 2009, Purim is on 10 Mar (11 Mar as well in J'lem), Passover on 9-15 Apr, Shavuot on 29 May. Expect airfare and hotels to become more expensive before/during Passover. Purim in Israel is really fun.

    BTW, it would help if you choose country in the top right column before posting. Many of us only check for posting relevant for particular countries.

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    May is much more consistently good warm weather for most of the country. March could still be rainy and cool.

    Use kayak.com, which is a site that searches multiple airlines, to create a fare alert for the timeframe you are looking at (it may be too early for the dates you are aiming for, so try ot with another date just to get the hang of it). You can get alerts sent daily or weekly (maybe monthly)and you'll get an idea of the best airfares found for each month . I recently used it to pounce on an airfare that was $150 cheaper than what I was about to book!

    Delta now flies to Tel Aviv from JFK and Atlanta, and you also have Continental from Newark and El Al from both JFK and Newark. You might also do better with a nonstop flight from the midwest to Europe somewhere, and then on to Israel. When you set up an alert on Kayak, you'd indicate you're looking for a route with only one stop (be that in the NYC area or in Europe)

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